More than two weeks after the signing was announced, Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny made his debut for the club against Burnley in the FA Cup. The Egyptian international played the full 90 minutes in Arsenal’s 2-1 after being an unused substitute in the last two matches.
Arsene Wenger was impressed with Elneny’s debut saying, “His mobility and his work rate were exceptional. ” While the manager did say it will take some time for the Egyptian to adjust to the physicality of the English game he did say that, “The intelligence, the mobility, and the technical level are good.”
Elneny was brought in as a defensive midfielder, probably to fill the hole left by Mikel Arteta. While his primary position is as a defensive midfielder, Arsene Wenger believe he is versatile saying, ““He can be box to box and be a holding midfielder so that is for us very promising.” In this match he played as a box to box midfielder next to Francis Coquelin who was playing as the primary holding midfield role. Elneny played as box to box midfielder with Alex Iwobi as the number 10 in front of the midfield two with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez playing wide.
Elneny’s first action as an Arsenal player was to commit a foul 63 seconds into his Arsenal career, but that ended up being the only foul he committed all day. He completed 84 of his 88 attempted passes (95.2%) and created two chances. He was constantly involved taking 100 touches, more than any other player on the pitch. He also showed that he really loves a shot at goal taking five shots, as many as Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. On the defensive action side he made two tackles, two clearances, and an interception.
Above is a touch map from Elneny’s debut. It shows just how involved he was in this match taking touches all over the pitch. He was clearly eager to get involved in his first match at the Emirates and was able to do so.
The role Arsenal are desperate for Elneny to fill is that of a defensive midfielder in the role of Mikel Arteta (but, you know, with working legs). They have a very capable “destroyer” in the shape of Francis Coquelin. The Frenchman has done very well in that role since coming into the team last December, but in some games they have needed something different from that position. Specifically against teams that sit deep and play for a point, Coquelin can become ineffective and Arsene Wenger has needed someone to control the game. Evaluating Elneny from that angle, he had a solid debut. His high pass percentage was a big positive and overall he rarely gave the ball away. The next step will be for him to play as the deepest midfielder and analyze his positional sense and discipline, but that is for another day.
All in all, Elneny had a very nondescript debut. He didn’t do anything wrong while not doing anything particularly flashy. In the role he is tasked with playing, that’s what should be expected. Nothing flashy, just keep the game ticking over.